Zuma Gaffes & Klevas

2016-08-31 13:09

They say U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is the global king of all political gaffes, a title he has embraced - there are a few memorable gaffes President Jacob Zuma is known for too. Besides gaffes he also has one of the long lasting controversial statement to have been made by a politician in South Africa. One particular gaffe that irritated many and caused a diplomatic incident was during his public consultation over the Gauteng national roads electronic tolling – Zuma said, “the country has to appreciate that Gauteng is a hub of Africa’s economy and our roads have to be maintained to international standards conforming with the best practices, Johannesburg roads are not like those in the Eastern Cape, this is not Malawi”.

The vice president of Malawi was aggrieved and many South Africans thought Zuma was wrong to come across as looking down upon Malawi whereas the country sheltered many South Africans during apartheid. Even as Nelson Mandela passed on, one of the questions journalists were eager to ask visiting Malawi President Joyce Banda was how she may have felt about Zuma’s remarks about her country’s roads.

This gaffe became more painful that the one of President Thabo Mbeki in New York where he told a New York Times reporter: “I know no one who has died of HIV Aids” - as hundreds of thousands South Africans were being buried from early death caused by HIV.

However, Zuma’s most lamented controversial statement was his off the cuff remarks in a speech where he defended his government performance stating that those who complained the most were “ the clever blacks”.

The general interpretation of this statement by political analysts, the media, political parties and intelligentsia was that Zuma meant that; he disliked intelligent blacks; that he looked down upon clever black people, that he was anti-intellectual, that he preferred stupid blacks. This analysis prevails to this day and is repeated in many circles by upper middle class blacks, white politicians and those who identify as intellectuals.

Tracing the complexities of the term 'clever blacks' in plain speak we locate it in black anthropology holding different meanings not necessarily confirming the prevailing analysis on Zuma comments. There are also other international meanings of the term when expanded further.

Clever blacks or as we would say in our living situations: “okleva”, developed along international term mostly used in Italian mobsters in New Jersey, New York, the “wise guys”. Typically in black township anthropology the term has been used to mean gangster or a 'fixer', problem solver usually through not so legal ways. It also meant a person whom you should be careful when dealing with as you may come short changed.

Politically it evolved to mean those blacks who are extremely westernized and those who believe they are ‘special blacks” or “exceptional blacks” - blacks who looked down on their culture and cultural background. It refers to those blacks who when a Penny Sparrow calls some black people monkeys – this does not refer to them and would never be said to them as they are better than the whole lot, they are loved by whites and they have white friends or white lovers. It also means the upper middle class who has since forgotten the efforts and what placed them up there.

Having not interviewed Zuma for this essay, one is left with having to analyse his statement and eliminate what could not fitting in the prevailing analysis - perhaps an alternative viewpoint.

First, if Zuma meant to say the ANC prefers stupid people he thus was insulting his own members and co-leaders. This cannot be true as the ANC holds itself as the ultimate home of black thought leadership, black intelligentsia with superior ideas on resolving many of the worlds problems and having two or more Noble Prize winners associated with it, Albert Luthuli, Nelson Mandela, perhaps Nadine Gordimer and Desmond Tutu.

Another is that Zuma is a champion of education and his personal foundation focuses on education. His personal record and testament is first and foremost promotion of education among poor Africans.

Sometimes as we develop our knowledge base, we need to strip it off of any personal hatred for another so that knowledge development remains untainted for generations. We should perhaps agree to dislike a person but in doing so not taint knowledge systems and development as we document our history and anthropological development. At some point we should say proper information sharing is more important than personal hate or disapproval of one person.

Bo Mbindwane is on twitter @mbindwane

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